HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Jennifer Higdon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer from Philadelphia, had her piece Road Stories for concert band premiered by The Hartt Symphony Band Friday.
She also received an honorary doctorate of music from The University of Hartford, which includes The Hartt School of music, dance and theater.
Robert Carl, a professor of composition at the university, said Higdon is “one of the most performed” composers in America.
“She’s always hit the home run when she had to with her pieces,” said Carl.
Higdon received her honorary degree for the excellence of her work and for her “eloquent musicality,” said Walter Harrison, president of The University of Hartford.
Higdon started learning music when she picked up the flute at age 15, later than many others in the profession.
She didn’t receive formal music training until she was 20, and didn’t start composing until a year after that.
“She’s been a total self-starter,” said Carl.
Higdon spoke briefly before the band performed her 2010 piece, Road Stories, which includes three movements, “Speed Bike,” “Winding Tree Lane” and “Rail Lights.”
“We’re living in a world where we need the arts more than ever,” said Higdon.
Music is a universal language, according to Higdon.
“It speaks to everyone,” she said.
Besides her musical talents, Higdon appears to have quite a bit of humility too. “I’m still adjusting to this,” Higdon said of her success. “I’m always working to make improvements.”
She said workshopping with students on a piece of music is the best way a composer can make it better.
Road Stories leaves the audience wanting more. The piece starts with the joyful exuberance of being on a bicycle.
It continues by taking listeners down a tree-lined road. Higdon uses different textures to illustrate patches of light and shadow caused by the leafy branches. This quieter movement is particularly effective as it is juxtaposed against the first and third movements, both being faster.
The third movement paints a picture of a train ride, from a window view. Listeners may not get the whole scene at first, but at some point they will realize the larger picture, described nicely by the exhilarating finish.
“She is not only magic as a composer,” said Matthew Aubin, conductor of the Hartt Symphony Band, but also “one of the most humble people” he’s ever met.
Kiernan Majerus-Collins is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.